All forms of corruption involve the misuse of discretion by public employees. The role played by discretion in corrections is significant. Cor­ rectional officials are provided with a broad mandate by law to develop and administer correctional agencies. This broad authority extends to devising rules, regulations, and procedures designed to control and otherwise handle offenders under custody. Corruption occurs when officials misuse this dis­ cretionary power for personal material gain.

At a general level, three forms of discretionary misconduct can be identified: misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance. For the purpose of understanding the relationship between corrupt practices and the misuse of authority, the different forms of corruption have been sorted into three cat­ egories of discretionary misconduct (see Table 15.1). Misfeasance refers to the improper performance of some act that an official

may lawfully do (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1968). Offenses in corrections that fall into this category include the acceptance of gratuities for special privileges or preferential treatment (e.g., assignment to honor blocks, access to



phone calls), the selective application of formal rewards and punishments to inmates for a fee, the sale of paroles or other forms of releases, and the misuse or misappropriation of state resources for one’s own personal gain. All these acts involve an employee misusing the lawful authority vested in his or her office for personal gain.

Corrupt practices falling into the category of misfeasance are directed at improving the living conditions of inmates and, as a result, they reduce the depri­ vations associated with imprisonment. The misuse of lawful authority appears to be in an area in which line staff have the greatest opportunities to maximize their personal gain (especially in supplementing their income through the commission of illicit acts), because the nature of their work permits them the greatest influence over routine prisoner conditions. These acts are also con­ sidered tow­visibility ones with little oversight at the lowest levels.

Malfeasance refers to direct misconduct or wrongful conduct by a public official or employee, as opposed to the improper use of legitimate power or authority (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1968). Corrupt practices that fall in this category involve primarily criminal acts and include theft; embezzlement; trafficking in contraband; extortion; exploitation of inmates or their families for money, goods, and services; protection rackets; assisting escapes (as opposed to arranging paroles or sentence communications); running pros­ titution rings; and engaging in criminal conspiracies with inmates for such purposes as forgery, drug sales, and counterfeiting.

Acts of malfeasance appear to represent more aggressive and serious acts by staff to supplement their incomes. This type of offense is similar to the grass­ eater/meat­eater distinction found in studies of police corruption (Knapp Commission, 1973). Meat­eaters are viewed as aggressively exploiting every possible situation for personal gain. Grass­eaters, on the other hand, take whatever comes their way. For instance, a meat­eater might sell drugs in prison, while a grass­eater might respond to an inmate’s request for drugs. This type of behavior is destructive to the correctional environment and in a very real way poses a danger to inmates and staff.

The last category is nonfeasance. Nonfeasance refers to the failure to act according to one’s responsibilities, or the omission of an act that an official ought to perform (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1968). McKorkle (1970) has suggested that nonfeasance is more responsible for corrupting correctional officers than malfeasance. Two types of corrupt practices appear to be involved in this type of decision: (I) selectively ignoring inmate violations of institutional rules, such as permitting inmates to engage in sexual activities with visitors or looking the other way when marijuana or other drugs are smuggled into the facility by visitors in return for payment; and (2) the failure to report or stop other employees involved in misconduct. This second practice might typically consist of a low­level employee not informing on a fellow officer or superior because of an implied or direct promise of personal gain, such as promotion, transfer, or time off or reduced duties. In other cases, an administrator may fail to stop staff misconduct for fear of public scandal and possible loss of position.

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